WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a challenge to the Biden administration’s efforts to end a Trump-era immigration program that forces asylum seekers arriving at the southwestern border to await approval in Mexico.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the majority opinion, along with Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh and the three Liberal members of the court. Judge Amy Comey Barrett agreed with much of the chief justice’s analysis.
Commonly known as Remain in Mexico and formally as the Migrant Protection Protocols, the challenged program applies to people who have left a third country and traveled through Mexico to reach the US border. After the policy was introduced in early 2019, tens of thousands of people waited in unsanitary tent camps for immigration hearings. There are widespread reports of assault, kidnapping and torture.
Shortly after taking office, President Biden tried to end the program. Texas and Missouri filed suit, and lower courts re-introduced it, ruling that federal immigration laws require return immigrants who arrive by land and cannot be detained while their cases are being heard.
Since the Biden administration restarted the program in December, there have been far fewer migrants enrolled than during the Trump era. That’s partly because the United States agreed to take additional measures to meet certain requirements from Mexico, including that migrants be returned under the program only if there is adequate reception space.
By the end of May, the Biden government had enrolled more than 7,200 migrants in the program since December 2021. Most of those who have signed up in recent months are from Nicaragua and are men.
According to the American Immigration Council, from January 2019, when the Trump administration started the program, nearly 70,000 migrants were returned to Mexico to await their court hearings until the end of 2020.
The case, Biden v. Texas, No. 21-954, was extraordinarily complex, with three legal provisions pointing in different directions.
A provision said the federal government will generally “detain” immigrants while they await their immigration proceedings. But Congress never allocated enough money to keep up with the number of people affected.
For example, in 2021, the government processed about 670,000 migrants arriving along the Mexican border but had the capacity to hold about 34,000.
The second provision states that the government may “return” migrants arriving by land to the country from which they came.
The third provision allowed the government to release migrants in the United States while they await their hearings “on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.”
Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, in Amarillo, ruled last year that immigration laws required that non-citizens seeking asylum be returned to Mexico when the federal government did not have the resources to detain them. to keep.
The Biden administration immediately asked the Supreme Court to intervene, but it refused to block Judge Kacsmaryk’s ruling, forcing it to restart the program. The three more liberal judges disagreed.
The court’s brief, unsigned injunction at the time stated that the administration appeared to have acted arbitrarily and erratically by withdrawing the program, citing a 2020 decision that had denied the Trump administration an Obama-era program. era for the protection of the young immigrants who were known to withdraw immediately. like dreamers.
The Biden administration then took steps to restart the program, even as it made another decision to terminate it. Government officials, responding to criticism that they had acted hastily, released a 38-page memorandum outlining their reasoning.
They concluded that the costs of the program outweighed the benefits. Those costs, the memo said, included the dangerous conditions in Mexico, the difficulties immigrants encountered in consulting with lawyers across the border, and the ways the program undermined the government’s foreign policy goals and domestic policy initiatives.
A panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, rejected the government’s plan to halt the program.
“The government says it has an irrevocable and unilateral discretion to create and eliminate entire components of federal bureaucracy that affect countless people, tax dollars and sovereign states,” Judge Andrew S. Oldham wrote for the panel. “The administration also says it has irrevocable and unilateral discretion to disregard the legal limits imposed by Congress.”
“And the government says it can do all of this by typing a new ‘memo’ and posting it on the internet,” he added. “If the government was right, it would replace the rule of law with the rule of saying. We think the government is wrong.”
Eileen Sullivan reporting contributed.